David Alfaro Siqueiros


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(b Chihuahua, 29 Dec. 1896; d Cuernavaca, 6 Jan. 1974).

Mexican painter, one of the trio of muralists (with Orozco and Rivera) who dominated 20th-century Mexican art. He was a political activist from his youth and in 1914 abandoned his studies at the Academy of San Carlos in Mexico City to join the revolutionary army fighting against President Huerta. His services were appreciated by the victorious General Carranza, who in 1919 sponsored him to continue his studies in Europe, where he was friendly with Rivera (later they became rivals). On returning to Mexico in 1922 he took a leading part in the artistic revival fostered by President Alvaro Obregón. Siqueiros was active in organizing the Syndicate of Technical Workers, Painters, and Sculptors and was partly responsible for drafting its manifesto, which set forth the idealistic aims of the revolutionary artists: ‘our own aesthetic aim is to socialize artistic expression, to destroy bourgeois individualism…We proclaim that this being the moment of social transition from a decrepit to a new order, the makers of beauty must invest their greatest efforts in the aim of materializing an art valuable to the people, and our supreme object in art, which today is an expression for individual pleasure, is to create beauty for all, beauty that enlightens and stirs to struggle.’

Siqueiros's political activities led to his imprisonment or self-imposed exile several times; from 1925 to 1930 he completely abandoned painting for political activity and he later fought in the Spanish Civil War. It was not until 1939 that he eventually completed a mural in Mexico—Portrait of the Bourgeoisie for the headquarters of the Union of Electricians in Mexico City (his slow start had prompted Rivera to retort in answer to criticism from him: ‘Siqueiros talks: Rivera paints!’). Thereafter, however, his output was prodigious. He painted many easel pictures as well as murals, and though he insisted they were subordinate to his wall paintings, they were important in helping to establish his international reputation. His murals are generally more spectacular even than those of Orozco and Rivera—bold in composition, striking in colour, freely mixing realism with fantasy, and expressing a raw emotional power. In contrast with the sense of disillusionment and foreboding sometimes seen in Orozco's work, Siqueiros always expressed the dynamic urge to struggle; his work can be vulgar and bombastic, but its sheer energy is astonishing. He often experimented technically—working on curved surfaces and using airbrushes and synthetic pigments (see acrylic)—and his last major work, the Polyforum Siqueiros in Mexico City (completed 1971), is a huge auditorium integrating architecture, sculpture, and painting. In his late years Siqueiros was showered with honours from his own country and elsewhere: he received the Lenin Peace Prize in 1967, for example, and in the following year became the first president of the newly founded Mexican Academy of Arts.

Subjects: Art.

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